There’s a lot going on in the PFL’s fourth year, including the Challenger Series and PFL Europe, but make no mistake: its biggest night is still the season finale.
The 2022 World Championship will take place Friday at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden in New York. Two-time lightweight champion Kayla Harrison (15-0) will headline the event against Larisa Pacheco (18-4) in what Harrison says will be her last “seasonal” PFL appearance. She intends to move on to more “superfights” in 2023.
In addition to wrapping up the fourth season of the PFL with $1 million in prize money across six weight divisions, the event will also mark the promotion’s first foray into a pay-per-view model. The PFL Championship airs on Sportzshala+ (main card PPV at 8:00 pm ET, preliminary matches at 6:00 pm).
There is a lot to look forward to on this map, a lot of questions to be answered. Here are some key storylines.
Resist the urge to sleep with Larissa Pacheco
Let’s be honest, it’s hard not to. This is impossible not to do. I didn’t go into that story two paragraphs before I mentioned that her lightweight finals rival, Harrison, is eyeing superfights in 2023. Harrison is expected to win this fight because that’s all she’s done in her entire MMA career and she’s already beaten Pacheco twice. Just cut her a check for $1 million, give her the belt, and move on.
But mixed martial arts loves destroy plans for the future. In this sport, you can’t look too far ahead. It’s no secret that the PFL wants to make a deal to have Harrison fight Bellator MMA’s Cris Cyborg next year, and the promotion deserves credit for that as this fight is due to take place. But when something seems too obvious or almost preordained, MMA has a way of humble us.
Pacheco is just now in his prime. She is 28. The last time she fought Harrison, she was 25. And although Pacheco has lost every round she has ever competed with her, Harrison has never finished it. She is only one of two of Harrison’s adversaries who can talk like that. And Pacheco’s power is real. She has five consecutive knockouts in the first round.
Harrison is as good as we all make her out to be, but she hasn’t had much trouble either. Generally. It’s a credit to her skill and preparation, but until we see her face in adversity, until we see her lose a round or get hurt by a gunshot, we really can’t say for sure how she’ll handle it. Adversity in combat is a different animal. There are ingredients for frustration here, and we shouldn’t ignore them.
Stevie Ray – MMA Comeback of the Year and one of the best stories of 2022
Ray actually retired from MMA two years ago. He had just signed a four-fight contract with the UFC, but the promotion’s doctors told him he would likely never fight again due to a knee injury. He was 30 years old and had lost his career and the opportunity to earn money for his family. Not to mention his personality as a professional fighter, which he has been since 2010.
So, the contract with the UFC is terminated. But Ray decides that despite his knee problems, MMA is what he knows and he is looking to sign elsewhere. Then COVID-19 hits, making it impossible for Ray to set up the fight. He catches a break when he signs with the PFL, returns to the regular season format after a three-year hiatus, and loses to Alex Martinez in April.
Ray made his second and final appearance in the regular season this year. needy finishing at 2:42 in the third round, otherwise he was eliminated. No playoffs. There is no guarantee that another fight will take place in 2022. And that fight was supposed to be against one of the greatest lightweights of all time, former UFC champion Anthony Pettis. Considering Ray’s entire history, his back could no longer be pressed against the wall.
And then in June he drops out of the tournament and finishes Pettis in the second round with one of the best submissions of the year to reach the playoffs, and defeats him again just six weeks later in a rematch to reach the final. Ray was Performed fights professionally and now he can claim $1 million and the PFL championship against Olivier Aubin-Mercier. Win or lose, he will easily be my Fighter of the Year when he returns in 2022.
A few quick hits on some other storylines:
Fighter under the most pressure: The answer is always Harrison because the expectations are very high and because she hopes to take part next year. To support this “Queen of MMA” narrative that she has built, she has to be perfect. So there is always pressure in it.
However, I will add one more name: Sadibu Si. He has been in the PFL since the beginning. Four years without a final victory. He faces a confident welterweight opponent, Dylano Taylor, who has nothing to lose. Taylor started the year in the Challenger Series and came late this season. If Sai is going to win everything, it’s like a year.
The best opportunity to organize the 2023 race: Aspen Ladd. It’s all right now, Aspen. Three years ago, it looked like Ladd’s career was about to skyrocket. The UFC booked her a spot in the main event against Germaine de Randamie in her Northern California backyard. And since then, nothing has gone well for her.
Ladd, 27, struggled to make weight for this main event and lost to de Randamie by knockout in just 16 seconds. It was her first professional defeat. She is 1-3 in her last four fights and was released by the UFC earlier this year after repeatedly failing to make bantamweight to 135 pounds. Now in the PFL, she will fight at 145 pounds starting in Friday’s (non-playoff) bout with former Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd.
As Harrison stated that she would not compete next season, the women’s lightweight division would be replaced by the featherweight division and the division would need a new face and a new identity. Ladd is capable of that, but things should start to work now. In fact, it could still be a good year for her if she wins this PFL debut.
Best fight of the final: Brendan Lofnain vs Bubba Jenkins. These featherweights are some of the most spectacular fighters on the map, both in and out of the cage. This is a competitive fight that will likely see fluctuations in momentum and could possibly last the full five rounds. The PFL clearly agrees with this assessment as this fight is a co-main event, second only to Harrison’s headlining star power.
Biggest question: “How does PPV work?” Of course, there are a million questions about the company’s best card of the year, but the biggest question is related to its business. The PFL surprised many people by choosing this map for PPV. This has been the company’s goal for some time, but whenever this change in business model occurs, it is met with uncertainty.
Historically, asking the audience to pay for something they would normally consume is “free”. It’s a big, big night for the PFL brand. This test is obviously of great importance to its owners and investors. Founder Donn Davis and CEO Peter Murray have shown they are in the business for the long haul. Over the past four years, they have steadily improved the PFL’s line-up, increased visibility, and improved broadcast quality. This PPV should not break records, but it should show that these efforts have led to progress and viewer demand. How this event plays out will be of great interest to the industry.
2022 PFL Championship fight card
Sportzshala+PPV, 20:00 ET
Women’s Lightweight: Kayla Harrison vs. Larissa Pacheco
Men’s Featherweight: Brendan Loughnane vs. Bubba Jenkins
Heavyweight: Ante Delia vs. Matthew Scheffel
Women’s Featherweight: Aspen Ladd vs. Julia Budd
Men’s Lightweight: Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Stevie Ray
Welterweight: Sadibu C vs. Dilano Taylor
Light Heavyweight: Robert Wilkinson vs. Omari Akhmedov
Sportzshala+, 18:00 ET
Men’s Featherweight: Marlon Moraes vs. Sheimon Moraes
Men’s Lightweight: Nathan Schulte vs. Jeremy Stevens
Catchweight: Magomed Magomedkerimov vs. Gleison Tibau
Women’s Flyweight: Dakota Dicheva vs. Katherine Corogenes
Lightweight (Amateur): Biagio Ali Walsh vs. Tom Gresser